Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Better transit on the hundred foot avenues

We’ve got them all over New York City: avenues that are a hundred feet wide from property line to property line. Some of them are dangerous speedways like Gun Hill Road in the Bronx, and some are congested urban business corridors like Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill. Some run through transit deserts like Little Neck Parkway, while others have four-track subways and multiple bus lines like Seventh Avenue in Manhattan.

I wish I could point to a single one of these and say that its configuration is ideal for our goals, but even Seventh Avenue has many shortcomings That said, some of these avenues are clearly better than others for local transit, some are better than others for long-distance transit, and some are better than others for pedestrian comfort and convenience.

I’ve realized that these avenues work as interesting case studies for how terrain, politics, land use and function interact to produce environments that are better or worse for transit and walking. Transit and pedestrian improvements can be independent, or they can complement each other. Running transit underground, as on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, or elevating it, as on Brighton Beach Avenue, is great for transit speed, frequency and reliability, but it’s no guarantee of a safe and comfortable pedestrian environment. Rezoning to allow and encourage shops and residences right next to the sidewalk can also improve conditions for pedestrians.

I’ve talked a lot about subways and els already. You know I’m in favor of them. But while we’re fighting for grade-separated rapid transit - or even if we have it - we still need to talk about surface transit. Surface transit is great for short, local trips, especially for people with mobility impairments, and reallocating street space from mixed traffic to transit, pedestrians or even parking can improve conditions for walking.

I’m planning a series of posts that explore some of these hundred foot avenues and evaluate particular strategies for their effectiveness in promoting transit or walking, or both. Stay tuned!